12 Jan 2023

JOHN RUTTER: Suite for Strings

by Jeff Counts

British composer and conductor John Rutter got an early start too. “I’ve known I wanted to be a musician since I could walk and talk,” he writes on the “Meet John” section of his website. “My bewildered parents,” he continues, “probably driven crazy by the hours of piano improvisation and piping treble singing they endured…sent me at age seven for piano lessons where my piano teacher told me to be a composer, or a singer (or anything but please not a pianist).” Though just a lad in that critical moment, he took the advice and now, decades later, is one of our greatest living creators of music for vocal ensemble. Rutter is known throughout the world for his Gloria, Requiem, Magnificat, and other large-scale choral works with orchestra, and a massive library of SATB vocal anthems, carols, and songs. He has been commissioned to write for several royal events honoring Queen Elizabeth, Prince William, and others, and continues to travel around the world as our most beloved choral ambassador. Lesser known are Rutter’s works for instrumental ensemble. These include the Suite Antique (1979) and the Suite for Strings (1973). In the older work, Suite for Strings, Rutter’s experience as a choir composer is immediately evident in the subject matter and the clean, clear part-writing of the string sections. The movements feature traditional melodies from England and Scotland, some of which go back hundreds of years. From cautionary tales for sailors (“A-Roving”) to ruminations on blue bonnets or the fading charms of young love (O Waly Waly) to admiration of domestic productivity (“Dashing Away”), the Suite for Strings is an infectious tour of British cultural history.